RICHMOND, Va. (BP) -- Thirty years ago, Scotty Tipper's prayers never got any higher than the top of his head.
At the time, Tipper was a deacon at his church in south Georgia. He taught Sunday School, even served as the church's discipleship training director. There was just one problem: Tipper wasn't a Christian.
"I knew I was lost," he said, "but I'd been in church my whole life."
That truth ate away at Tipper's insides until he couldn't ignore the Holy Spirit any longer. During the invitation at church one Sunday morning, he stood up from the choir, walked down to his pastor in tears and told him that he needed Jesus.
It was a life-changing moment, Tipper said. Today the retired educator is experiencing that same kind of spiritual transformation again -- this time in his prayer life.
Tipper, now 63, was among 15 students who graduated from the inaugural class of the School of Prayer for All Nations (SPAN), July 29-Aug. 2, at the International Mission Board's missionary training facility near Richmond, Va. The class represented a wide cross-section of Southern Baptist life, drawing laypeople like Tipper, pastors and even former missionaries from states as far as Indiana and Texas.
"Before I came here, I would say that I could pray with the best of 'em," Tipper said. "But now, I don't want to pray with the best of them, I want to pray the way that Jesus prayed. That's the transformation I'm talking about."
It made such an impact that Tipper phoned his pastor to tell him that he would personally pay the pastor's SPAN registration fee if he would attend. "He said, 'Is it that good?' And I said, 'It will change your life.' ... Now the only reason he can't come is because he don't want to," Tipper added with a grin.
For Ashley Allen, a 33-year-old women's missions and ministry director with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, coming to SPAN was all about the numbers.
"Over the last several years, the Lord has really burdened my heart for all these big numbers -- 258 million lost people in the U.S., 6 billion lost people in the world," Allen said, adding that there are an estimated 5.8 million lost people in her home state of North Carolina alone. "We sometimes forget that each number is attached to a soul -- people who are eternally separated from God, who, if they died today would be going to hell."
Marty Sampson,* an associate pastor in Auburn, Ala., said he was drawn to SPAN out of deep, personal conviction that Southern Baptists have forgotten the importance of prayer. (He asked not to use his real name because he often travels to areas of the world that can be hostile to Christianity.) Read More